3 Insider Tips to Start Thrift-Store Shopping Now

© Emma Grady. The author wearing a vintage Ultrasuede trench coat ($15) with a vintage handbag ($25), found at a thrift store and a flea market.

Some people "ooh" and "aww" over puppies. I'm not one of them. Give me a thrift store and I delight in hunting for--and finding--affordable, high-quality secondhand fashion. I've been wearing thrift-store clothing from before I even thought it was cool--and I still remember that day my mom made me wear a horrible secondhand top to school in second grade. But I'll forever remember the moment I found my first vintage fashion steal: a timeless navy blue Armani blazer that I still own today.

You, too, can master the art of thrift-store shopping. Here are three simple tips to get you started, plus an account of my most memorable vintage fashion moments that will inspire you to get started.

1. Locate a Thrift Store Near You

This might go without saying but first things first: you need a location to start shopping. If you live in New York City, which I do, then you have numerous options. Some of my favorites include: Housing Works, the Salvation Army and Goodwill. The two latter of which can be found nationwide.

Another hot spot with locations across the country is Buffalo Exchange. I first visited their store in Arizona, back when I was in elementary school, and suffice it to say it was memorable. Let's also not forget flea markets like the Brooklyn Flea and the Hester Street Fair.

© Emma Grady. The author, wearing a vintage Neiman Marcus gown, found for $15 at a Beacon's Closet thrift store.

One thing to note about thrift stores: the smaller, boutique locations have higher price points. You end up paying for someone to curate the selection for you, which is a price I'm personally not willing to pay.

2. Practice Spotting Quality

© Emma Grady. A vintage Pierre Balmain bag found for $25 at Beacon's Closet.

Knowing how to recognize quality pieces can take time, but once you do, you'll be able to shop more easily. Look for 100% natural fibers like silk, cashmere, and wool. (Sustainable materials like tencel and organic cotton are rarity in a thrift shop, but buying secondhand is sustainable in its own right.)

Since this is thrift-store shopping for beginners, look for clothing that has a label listing materials. You don't want to mistake polyester for silk. Stick with what you know and labels you trust, like L.L. Bean, notable for their quality and durability.

3. Be Persistent (and Patient)

© Emma Grady. Needlepoint By Paige carpet slippers found for $10 at a thrift store in Maine.

I've had my best luck at thrift stores--and in life--when I've kept my expectations low. I never know if I am going to find a treasure or not.

Find a local spot and keep going back. Inventories are oft-updated on a weekly basis. If you are familiar with items that are already there, you will notice what's new, making it less work each visit. Thrift stores need to clear out space to make room for donations. So that item you were eying last week might be on sale next week. Lucky, you.

© Patrick McMullan. The author at Christie's Bid to Save the Earth, wearing a vintage dress found for $25 at a flea market.

I have a running list of items that I need to fill gaps in my wardrobe. It can take a long time--sometimes even years--to find a key piece, but I have always been successful.

I have found many memorable pieces, at unbelievable prices. Some of my favorites include: embroidered Dolce & Gabbana trousers ($5), a vintage Henri Bendel dress ($10), a Marie Antoinette-esque Isaac Mizrahi dress ($10), a London Fog trench coat that I've worn for more than ten years ($35), and, most recently, brand new silk Naeem Khan trousers ($8).

What's your favorite thrift-store find? Share it--and any helpful thrift-store shopping tips--in the comment section, below.

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Tags: Accessories | Clothing | Sustainable Fabrics

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